Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bring back TV themes

My sincere thanks to all of you for your heartfelt and lovely wishes regarding my mom. I am truly touched. I wish I could write you each back personally but just know that your comments were very comforting and greatly appreciated.

Since I'm still dealing with family affairs, here's a re-post from over a year ago. It's a topic that always generates strong opinions and bears repeating. The comments should be quite lively.


There is an meme going around asking us bloggermeisters to list our favorite TV theme songs. And that got me thinking – I MISS TV THEME SONGS.

Networks today, so deathly afraid of tune out, have all but eliminated theme songs and opening credits. They go by so fast you can’t tell the difference between opening titles and vanity production cards. And I think it does a disservice to the shows and the viewers. A good opening title sequence can really set the tone for the show. CHEERS wasn’t just a bar, it was the place where everyone knows your name. If it premiered today you’d see the logo, an animated glass of beer being filled, and ten seconds of “Sweet Caroline”.

It would be a little hard to sell that the Monkees were this goofy playful rock band if the extent of their theme was “Hey hey, we’re the Monkees!” America would be saying “Hey hey, so what?”

Networks complain that sitcoms are all the same then take away their signature feature.

And here’s what they don’t understand -- a good theme and opening title sequence ATTRACTS viewers. Some people tune in specifically because they LIKE the title sequence. That was me with the Drew Carey “Cleveland Rocks” opening. If only the show was that good.

An added benefit in this day of synergy and cross promotion is that they can become hit records on their own. (HAWAII 5-0, WELCOME BACK KOTTER, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE) Think of all the free three minute plugs your show will get when KIIS-FM is playing the shit out of your theme. (I’m not being local here. Every city in America, Canada, Australia, and Yemen has a KIIS-FM).

These themes can become part of pop culture. I bet more Americans know the words to GILLIGAN’S ISLAND than the Star Spangled Banner. Hell, more people can sing the lyrics to CHARLES IN CHARGE. These ditties are burned into our brains. When we’re 90 and can’t remember if we put our pants on we’ll still be able to sing the MASH theme and the JEFFERSONS. (A year ago I would have put BEWITCHED in that category but I think Nora Ephron has permanently killed it. When are they going to stop letting her make movies?)

And ultimately here’s what we’re talking about – twenty more seconds. That’s all. Twenty more seconds. Maybe thirty. God forbid thirty-five. The same amount of time it takes to run a promo for TIL DEATH. What would YOU rather watch?


Okay, so in no particular order – my ten favorite TV themes.


One final thought, if you have opening titles then maybe the credits won’t extend so far into the show. Considering how large some of these casts and staffs are it’s not inconceivable that someday on a comedy credits will roll all the way through the tag.


Anonymous said...

HBO knows: The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Deadwood.

IQCrash said...

Ken, my prayers and thoughts go out to you and your family.

Grubber said...

Ken, you graciously entertain and educate us on daily basis. I have hardly ever seen you miss a day.
Feel free to skip a day or week(or whatever you want) of posting, as a small tribute to your mum. Family is always more important than us readers.
Again, my condelences.

Unknown said...

The Dick Van Dyke Show theme music is fantastic.

Barney Miller
The Simpsons
The Flintstones!
The Greatest American Hero?
Get Smart
The Monday Night Football Theme used to be it's just silly.

All the best to you and yours.

Webs said...

Drew Carey's theme song attracted me to the show, but it was "Moon pver Parma". I didn't appreciate the move to "Cleveland Rocks".

Anonymous said...

Here are some favorites that haven't been mentioned:

Rockford Files
Bob Newhart Show
Love American Style
Lou Grant
Dobie Gillis
Northern Exposure
Jonny Quest
The Odd Couple
The Price is Right

Anonymous said...

The theme from "Friends" is locked in our brains...

Anonymous said...

The last great theme song was probably "Fresh Prince of Bel Air". My entire age group (18-25) can recite that song verbatim. Seriously. Ask anyone in that age range.

Rays profile said...

First, my condolences on the death of your mom...lost mine in 2001 and still think of her every day.

As for theme songs...I can't go into Chicago without hearing the Bob Newhart music in my head.

And there was one show where the credits ran through the entire show - the short lived 1969 "Turn-On."

Unkystan said...

Still amazed watching shows in syndication with full openings ("Nanny", "Mad About You", "Cosby Show") Obviously dramatic shows get more 'opening theme respect' than comedies. Thank goodness we have a few comedies with themes left ("The Office", "30 Rock" and on occasion, "Two and a Half Men"). And forget about closings on any show!

The Minstrel Boy said...

Peter Gunn not only had a theme song (when I played with Harry "the Hipster" Gibson, at any time, in any song, if he shouted "GUNN!" we instantly launched into Peter Gunn for four bars and then went back to where we left off the other song. It kept the band sharp) it had a Mancini soundtrack. The music of that show was almost a character.

p.s. thanks for remembering Top Cat! now i have to go and play the whole thing through to get it out of my head. then i'll probably have to play, in order, The Patty Duke Show followed closely by Leave it to Beaver.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...


Anonymous said...

"If you're in doubt about angels being reeeeeeal..." Don't forget Gidget! It swings.
Mr. Ed
Patty Duke
I Spy
All in the Family

and WORST EVER: "The Practice" (not the Danny Thomas show, the recent legal drama with Catherine Manheim. Just random synth noises.)

Anonymous said...

My all time favorite is "Nanny & The Professor". It should have been a hit song too. Oh well.

Allen Lulu said...

How I met your Mother ALMOST has a great theme song, it has all the elements and I make my wife play it rather than tivo through it, so I can hum along. But, it's only 15 seconds.
If they had the balls to write the whole thing it would be a hit.

Evan said...

I blame Seinfeld. I blame Seinfeld for a lot of things, actually. Or to be more accurate, I blame people mindlessly imitating aspects of Seinfeld that were great when Seinfeld did 'em, but other sitcoms shouldn't attempt.

Anonymous said...

How about:
I LOVE LUCY -- So timeless that Little River Band "sampled it" on "Reminising"

DANNY THOMAS SHOW / MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY -- I never realized the melody was actually a somber Celtic folk song until years later.

DICK VAN DYKE SHOW - I wonder if that was played by the same band as the "Oh Danny (Williams) Boy?"

TWILIGHT ZONE - Brilliant and unique -- inspired two hits: The Marketts "Outta Limits" and Manhattan Transfer's "Twilight Zone"


CHEERS - another big radio hit

HAPPY DAYS - ditto

LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY - song was better than they show

MR. LUCKY - show's never rerun; song ought to be an oldie


Diane said...

USA knows too - It's a Jungle Out There - the Monk theme song by Randy Newman

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Munsters.. that whole period of tv, even if the show wasn't up to much (It's about Time..My Mother the Car, Car 54) the themes song were actually commissioned, rather than just selecting some singer-songwriter.
Norman Lear also did a good job of bringing some atitude back to the theme songs.

I have to second the Patty Duke Show mention as well. I saw it as a kid and can still recall all the words.

Willy B. Good said...

Hay when it comes to tv themes am I the only one who thought Mr ED rocked.



Mike Barer said...

Don't forget "The Beverly Hillbilies" from which we made a lot of childish versions from on the playground in my childhood.
Also "My Mother The Car" as bad as it is panned as being had a rather catchy jingle.

Mike Barer said...

I just read "The Munsters" suggestion. Don't forget "The Adams Family"

Cap'n Bob said...

In no particular order:

Perry Mason
Leave It to Beaver
Have Gun, Will Travel
The Live and Legend of Wyatt Earp
Jim Bowie
Davy Crockett
Daniel Boone
Happy Days when they used Rock Around the Clock
Bat Masterson
The Roy Rogers Show
Death Valley Days
The Twilight Zone
and all the Warner Brothers Westerns (Cheyenne, Maverick, Sugarfoot, Bronco, Colt .45)

I missed your blog yesterday and just learned of your mother's passing. That was a beautiful, moving tribute you wrote.

Anonymous said...

The only recent network show that I can remember that consistently had a theme song was The O.C., and lo and behold it was canceled.

Teens across the US however will have etched in their brains forever that simple melody:


Unknown said...

A few more that have been in my head..

OPEN ALL NIGHT!! Man...that one swings..

BEST OF THE WEST...don't remember much at all about that show except the theme.



SANFORD AND SON...I was taking the studio B tour in Nashville and some goofball's cell phone went off. The Sanford theme was the ringtone, and it stayed in my head through the day in Music City USA.


And then there's MAUDE...

Michael Jones said...

A few more animated themes:
King of the Hill
Yogi Bear
Any Hanna Barbera SF show (ie Space Ghost, Herculoids)
Charlie Brown
Rocky and Friends
Mighty Mouse
Spiderman! (He does whatever a spider can, you know.)

Mark Mascolino said...

I think we can all agree that shows that have great theme songs are a great assets espacially when coupled with great title sequences. However there is a ton of garbage out there as well. What's worse is that everyone seems to just play follow the trend. Everyone either has to have a fll theme song or do something minimal rather than doing what's right for the show. I wish that would be more of the norm.

Take The Shield for example, they do something gripping and intense and then either have a shocking or comical reveal and then wham, bam right into there short title sequence with a cacaphony of Latin, Rock and Rap music. It completely fits the bill. Likewise, Friend's sequence really sets up the background of the show.

Anonymous said...

WKRP in Cincinnati.


Beckylooo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beckylooo said...

What kismet that you brought this up. Last week, two of my coworkers and I spent about a half an hour gathered around a computer listening to old TV theme songs. We'd get half way through one, singing along and someone would call out another... "OOoo Golden Girls." I'm sure our bosses were thrilled. We have varied backgrounds. I'm from Texas. One of us grew up in Egypt and Spain. And the other in Oakland. But all of us knew most of the words to most of the songs. TV theme songs, the ties that bind.

Granted we all work in television...

? said...

This all seemed to start with Lost. God I hate that show...

But I agree, the themes to Friends, Dallas, Cagney & Lacey, A-Team are all classics.

I completely agree with you, Ken. We're missing out.

It seems for great themes you gotta go to the animated shows like American Dad etc.

Anonymous said...

Some v. interesting TV interviews. Some are kind of slow going (and might be over long) but some were great.

Anonymous said...

One more vote for the MONK Theme Song.

Anonymous said...

Andy Griffith Show.

Hey, whistling counts!

Anonymous said...

Ken, I'm sorry about your Mom. I'm glad you have such great memories of her. You're very lucky that way.

Theme're right about how the words to those songs come to mind better than songs you hear on the radio every day. A few years ago my sister and I were treated to an impromptu concert by some schoolchildren at a small ancient Roman amphitheater in Animurium, Turkey. When it came time for us to reciprocate the only song I could remember the words to was "The Mickey Mouse Club Song". But I'm sure they'd never heard it before!

Cathy Fielding said...

High Chaparral
Wagon Train

I couldn't get enough westerns as a kid!

Stephen Green said...

Barney Miller was the best, all time. The theme from My Three Sons is what, surprisingly, I find myself playing on guitar when I'm just noodling around.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's really hard to pick apart the good themes as opposed to themes from shows that I liked, but not for the theme. I've never seen an episode of "Rawhide", but I love the song and have since I heard it in "The Blues Brothers", of all places. "Peter Gunn"'s theme also falls into this category.

The original Star Trek had one of the most unique themes, that wordless vocal that sounded like a theremin with the orchestra backing. Others, in no particular order:

Beverly Hillbillies
Rockford Files
Dragnet - opening reminiscent of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and probably almost as recognizable
Davy Crockett
Hawaii 5-0
The Munsters - I used to argue that it was a much better show than the Addams Family, in no small part because the theme to the latter just irritated the crap out of me.
Laverne and Shirley - When Nissan started doing clever commercials, one of them had Johnny Cash singing this with Nissan "auto workers" as a chorus. It was great.

Anonymous said...

I agree, I miss the classic TV Themes that really set the stage for the entire tone of a show and went down as classics within circles of families and friends. The sorts of songs you can sing along to and everyone claps the top of their heads and recognizes it. An example outside of TV Themes: I can immediately get 75% of my friends nearby at any given moment to sing along to "Riff Raff, Street Rat" from Aladdin. It's thirty seconds of togetherness all bottled up in a beautiful moment.

On the other hand, what TV shows are doing today aren't always a bad thing, and as much as I miss TV themes, many of these new openings hit the tone of a show more than a classical theme world. Imagine THE SHIELD beginning with anything but screaming and fragments coming together for its five-second opening (often following a 15-minute intro).

But then, I doubt the classic TV theme writers had THE SHIELD in mind when they created the CHEERS theme. Maybe MASH, though. They could have modified it to "Suicide is painless, and nothing compared to what Vic and Shane will do when they find you"...

Anonymous said...

Agree with many of the comments and love theme songs.

ABC added a killer one earlier this year with the theme to "Knights of Prosperity." I love the show, but think i was very much in the minority.

The theme song is here:

Anonymous said...


I agree. Themes are important, if for no other reason than that they set a mood for the show -- especially if the composer/music editor did a good job.

Among my favorites that were used as instrumentals:

The Wild Wild West
77 Sunset Strip
Route 66
Lassie (both the Robert Maxwell and
the Jack Wrather productions)
The 20th Century

Note that although there are lyrics to a couple of the themes, the lyrics weren't used in the shows. The music was descriptive enough without them.


Anonymous said...

What about The Wire?

Rebounding said...

...and no one has mentioned Night sad.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly about the importance of the theme song. Even when I'm looking at a show I've TiVoed, I'll watch the opening theme and when my boyfriend asks me why, I say exactly what you do "it sets the tone" .

Some great ones have been mentioned, but there are more: This Old House, Masterpiece Theatre, Crime Story, The Office (U.K) (okay, so those aren't original to the shows, but they have become linked for me), Sex and The City, The Muppet Show, Magnum P.I., X-Files, Hill Street Blues, and The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Even though it is a harbinger of the reduction of the television theme, the Law & Order BING BONG is also a classic. Finally, I'm partial to the Gary Morris/ Crystal Gayle version of "You Take Me Away to (Another World)" - and I didn't even watch the show.

Anonymous said...

Mannix had a great 60s vibe to it. But the best was Underdog!

Speed of lightning, roar of thunder, Fighting all who rob or plunder



VP81955 said...

If Saturday morning animation is to be included here, let's give a cheer for "Animaniacs" (in what other cartoon would the theme include a reference to "pay-or-play contracts"?) and its stablemate, "Pinky and the Brain." Those are the facts...naaaarf!

Anonymous said...

Many great submissions, but the absolute number one TV theme song of all time for setting the tone has got to be... Hockey Night In Canada! Of course, most of you are Americans, so you've sadly been deprived of this gem, but up here it is virtually our 'second national anthem.' Only Hawaii 5-0, Gilligan's Island, Bonanza, and Cheers even come close for popular recognition.

Eyran said...

Hi. I’m writing to bring to your attention my piano recording of Jeff Beal’s original TV show Monk theme song. I have released it on my CD Solotude, and was soon surprised to see that the song was by far the most downloaded. I realize that many people are looking for other recordings of the original, but it’s not easy to help them find mine. Any help that you could offer with regards to letting people who love the original version know about my rendition of this wonderful composition would be greatly appreciated. The CD Solotude including Monk appears on my website

Thank you,

Eyran Katsenelenbogen
Eyran Records